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Down to the depths?

Biscayne Bay Lighthouse
Biscayne Natural Park
Snorkelling at Biscayne Natural Park
Marine turtles at Biscayne Natural Park

The Miami shore is not only home to sculpted, tanned bodies. At Biscayne, under the surface of the water, there is a hidden world with very different charms.
The sub-aquatic beauty of Miami has a name of its own: Biscayne Natural Park, found just 34km south of Miami. The park comprises four main ecosystems: a line of mangroves on the continental coast, the southern part of Biscayne Bay, the islands of the north Florida Keys and the first part of one of the world’s largest coral reefs.

As you can probably imagine, Biscayne National Park is a diver’s paradise. After all, 95% of the park is water. The spectacular sub-aquatic landscape and shallow, calm waters are its main claim for seducing snorkelling fans. Astrid Rybeck, Park Ranger, describes it as being “like a small city, a town painted in electric blue, fluorescent yellow, burnt orange and bright violet.”

If you want to appreciate this scene at its best, visit on sunny days, when there is no wind, which is when the water is at its clearest and calmest. These are the ideal conditions for observing parrotfish and other tropical treasures, such as flamingo snails, Christmas tree worms and acetabularia. Indeed, here it is possible to observe more species of fish here than all of the different types of mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian found in Yosemite and Yellowstone combined. But, be on the alert, not only to observe the splendour of these myriad marine species, but also to avoid the dangers of the seductive lionfish. Despite its appearance, its tentacles are so poisonous that it can instantly kill all the small fish in a whole section of the reef, Rybeck assures us. The park is currently developing a program to eradicate them, in order to conserve the rest of the local fish and mollusc species.

In addition to excursions to observe marine life, Biscayne National Park also offers an underwater tour where you can see 44 shipwrecked boats up close and personal. The cause of these tragedies is none other than the position of the reefs at the surface.

There is so much to visit here that a day is not enough; so, reserve two or three days of your trip to Miami to explore it properly. Apart from diving, another way of getting to know this national park is by hiring a glass-bottom boat or a kayak. You can go on excursions in the bay and keys. Elliott Key is the largest island in the park and is thought to be the first coral island formed in Florida. There are also guided canoe trips, where they will explain all the details and curiosities of this place, which attracts droves of divers from all over the world, every year. This is one part of Miami where not everyone has the chance to immerse themselves. Are you really going to miss it?

Remember to plan ahead

You can’t visit Biscayne National Park spontaneously. Unlike other parks, which can be visited on foot or by car, you have to plan to visit this place because 95% of it is covered by water. The visitors centre opens every day (from 7am–5:30pm) and is located at Convoy Point. There are no hotels in the park, but Elliott and Boca Chita Keys have campsites where you can pitch a tent for $15 a night.

A fearsome invader

The lionfish is a highly poisonous hunter, which uses toxins in the spines on its fins to kill its prey. If they feel threatened, they show their dorsal fin. Their poison is not deadly for human beings (unless they are allergic to its toxins), but it is advisable to be very careful if you should meet one: its sting is very painful and causes vomiting and fever. If one stings you, stop diving and seek medical help as quickly as possible.